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journeymecca

You wouldn’t believe it but I was saving this post for over a year, I couldn’t post it until now ! (due to an NDA agreement with the film producers). So the movie finally premiered on Abu Dhabi this month, I received an invitation to come over, but didn’t find a flight to take me there on time.. yeah unfortunately, but I’ll surely see it when it hits our IMAX theater in Kuwait next month, can’t wait !!

Journey to Mecca tells the story of a young scholar, Ibn Batuta, who leaves Tangier in 1325 on an epic and perilous journey, traveling alone from his home in Morocco to reach Mecca, some 3,000 miles to the east.

The film was shot in two locations, Saudi Arabia for the Haj scenes, and Morocco for the remainder of the movie, hamdella I had the privilege to work on the haj part as a 3rd assistant camera with the Steadycam team during Haj in December of 2007. The Haj part was some what a challenge to the producers, because as it is known only Muslims can enter the Mecca, so a team of Muslims were trained on the IMAX cameras in the US long long before the Haj period just to get them ready, and a few months before the actual shooting, a quick preparation period took place to wrap vital necessities, such as location scouting, transportation, budgeting..etc. Including hiring some people as assistants, and that’s when I got the chance to be a part of the crew.

So I thought now of sharing my filming experience with you..

FIRST DAY:  HOTEL ARRIVAL – Tuesday 4th- Wednesday 5th December 2007

That was my first day on the job !! I was so excited, I rested at a hotel in Jeddah, I recieved my call sheet under the room door – it felt like a mission which was quite cool – and the following day we had a training session in the warehouse to make sure our equipment is set and know how to use them properly, since they are IMAX equipment and should be treated with more care, we had technicians from Canada with us just incase something goes wrong, as it did during our shooting in Mecca. We were grouped into 3 teams, unit A that did the helicopter shot, long shots and time-lapse shots, unit B that did the misc shooting, and unit C (the one im in) is the steadycam team, the one that moved on it’s feet.

My room is just after that corridor

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Getting the equipment ready at the warehouse

HAJ AIRPORT: Thursday 6th December 2007

So at that day we started shooting some planes in the Haj Airport arriving from different parts of the world to Saudi Arabia to attend the Haj, we were a bit late due to the driver being sent to jail for speeding or something, but we arrived eventually, but they only allowed 10 of us to enter inside the airplane track  due to airport security reasons, fortunately I was one of the 10 that got to enter.

That’s our Director Bruce Neibaur, he also directed Mysteries of Egypt, an IMAX film, and now he’s directing the movie “Beyond the Horizon” with Stephen Hawkings himself

From left to right, me (3rd assistant Camera), Bruce Neubaur (Director), Afshin Javadi (Director of Photography), Kambiz Koushan (1st Assistant Camera). The day was really hot for the shooting as you can see

DAY OFF – Friday 7th December 2007

Yipeee !! day off

BUS RIGGING TEST: Saturday 8th December 2007

On this day, our saudi production manager fist fought with the driver because

he asked for the warehouse key impolitely and the driver refused to give it to him – I wasn’t surprised at all, but my question why does this nonsense always happens in our region ?! really we should grow up – anyways everything was settled, we fixed the IMAX camera on top of the bus, and took a drive on the bus to test that everything is working properly, some officers stopped us and they wasted over an hour of our time checking our approvals from the government and trying to explain to them that it’s a movie about the Mecca and Haj.. but you know these type of things were a pain throughout our filming days, what you really don’t want is a stupid guy who isn’t cooperating and eventually wastes a shot in an important day during Haj that was planned for years. The Bus shot got canceled because the roads leading to Mecca at that time weren’t crowded with buses as we wanted them to be, so the whole day was like a complete waste of time and money ! but things like this do happen a lot as I kept learning, this causes uncontrolled frustration to the team.. but this is filmmaking.

Our C-unit team on the bus prep test

WAREHOUSE PREP: Sunday 9th December 2007

We had a rigging prep at the warehouse, as usual, testing the equipment, making sure that all things are set and ready. Then our line producer Daniel Furgeson gave us a speech as well as Jonathon Barker, one of the producers.

JEDDAH PORT: Monday 10th December 2007

So here we were shooting boats arriving to Jeddah port carrying pilgrimages, these boats were filled with so many people, it was unbelievable ! we had to wake up at sunrise and come early, but didn’t do anything until 12:am where the first boat arrived from Sudan, we went inside the ship with our steadycam and took some shots on board, then after the day was over we came back to the warehouse to pack the equipments.

That’s our equipment truck for our unit C

OFF TO MECCA – Tuesday 11th December 2007

This is where the real fun begins !! today we are heading to Mecca, we gathered at 10am, and went to the warehouse at 2pm.. yea waiting for whoever was late, then before we seperated from the rest of the crew (non-muslims) our Director, Producers gave us a farewell speech.

waiting and waiting …

Me and Jack Tankard, aka Jack of Arabia, an IMAX technician

As mentioned the director didn’t come along with us, along with the executive producers and the whole IMAX technicians, so instead we had a Muslim assistant director with us calling the shots, Abdulatif Salazar, and at the end of each day, Bruce our director who was in a area just close to Mecca took a look at the dailies, the shots, and gave us his feedback, this wouldn’t happen anywhere else besides Mecca, that the Director wasn’t allowed to be with us.

So after everyone was set and ready, we made our move to Mecca !

The path was smooth to Mecca apart from a car bumping to us which is expected during Haj, it was ever so slight so nobody got hurt, then as soon as we arrived we unloaded our equipment to the basement under the Haram (Holy site), we got late because of some officials making sure of our approvals and paperwork (yes again), we then slept at around 3am.

Our equipment, you can notice the C letter on the wall, corresponding to the Steadycam unit, unit C, we had guards with us 24/7 guarding that area.

Our Hotel in Mecca

MECCA – Wednesday 12th December 2007

We still had issues with the paperwork and the guards (yup again and again), but today it was our first time inside the near the Ka’ba with the IMAX camera !! the IMAX camera is so heavy, that in order to move it around 2 people are required for that task, we had some guards with us to make us way through the crowd without bumping into someone or getting people hurt, as soon as that was taken care of, we settled in our position and took our first track-in steadycam shot, it was really nice !

As we are shooting we had the film magazine stuck twice, some time got lost fixing those issues. After we finished from the day we headed back to our hotel, it was so crowded that I was carrying a heavy backpack with me and it took me 2 hours to past the people and arrive to the hotel, it was aaa.. terrible.

MECCA – Thursday 13th December 2007

Our shooting call was at 10am, we went to our location and noticed that the camera doesn’t work.. again ! we had to use another IMAX camera from the other unit’s team, I had to go to the basement several times, back and forth, getting essential items from the basement, and what got me frustrated more that someone from our team quit, so I had that moron’s work to do besides mine, then as we came back to the hotel, all our money from our production team got stolen, yea someone took it, then we eventually found out later that it was the same guy who quit that did it !! and guess what, he forgot to leave the money under his bed pillow !! what a stupid thief !

ROOF AT MARWA- Friday 14th December 2007

The feeling today was great, I’m walking light and no need to carry any cases along, what a relief !

All units were off today, except for unit A, which they had a time-lapse shot of the Haram from above the roof of Al-Marwa hotel, the highest at that time. So I decided to check on them and see what they were up to….

So up to the 29th floor

The view from above, beautiful.

Me and Nabil Zein our unit C production supervisor

It was the most amazing view I ever saw, the Haram was filled with thousands of people !! We even managed to pray during Isha time on the roof, you basically can see the Ka’ba just under you ! After finishing, I got myself a foot massage in the hotel – I was surprised they had one in our hotel- and saw our unit C fellas there too, then we had a rest.

TAWAF SHOT – Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th December 2007

Tawaf is one of the Islamic rituals of pilgrimage. During the Hajj and Umrah, muslims are to circumambulate the Ka’bah (the holiest building in Mecca) seven times, in an anti-clockwise direction. The circling is believed to demonstrate the unity of the believers in the worship of the One God, as they move in harmony together around their central shrine, while supplicating to God “Labbaik Allahumma Labbaik“.

Probably the hardest days of them all, we faced several issues with the camera, many people kept looking at the camera and were waving and all that, so most of our shots weren’t that good, expect for mere seconds, on Sunday, four of our members got sick including me, we talked to pilgrimages to act as extras and let them walk in a path while we followed them with the steadycam revealing the Ka’ba at the end, it looked good, but on one of the shots there was kid waving at the end, he ruined it, we had to repeat that shot many times to get it right, the Haram began to be crowded and we didn’t have anything to eat, so we waited desperately for the hotel restaurant to open since they were closed during the prayer time.

Me holding a camcorder shooting behind-the-scenes footage for the making of

our IMAX camera to the left, and right behind it a camera from the behind the scenes crew

Afshin Javadi, our DP, holding the Steadycam with the IMAX camera attached, he really showed his work today

After our shots were done, we packed at night getting ready to go to Arafat, but I wasn’t there help to pack the stuff to the truck at night coz I was dead sick, I had to regain strength at the hotel, but one stupid assistant was trying to talk to move me to another unit because he saw me not working, he’s like playing it by the book and not thinking about what I had worked on today despite my health, what a jerk ! I didn’t let it happen and he shut his mouth.

TO ARAFAT – Monday 17th, Tuesday 19th December 2007

We checkout out from Mecca, we had so many stuff with us but not enough cars.. and talking about the traffic, it was hell crazy !! we settled at a place called Bait el Shabab. And the following morning we headed to Arafat, Arafat is the day of forgiveness from sins, At dawn of this day, Muslim pilgrims will make their way from Mina to a nearby hillside and plain called Mount Arafat

We had to lift boxes, tripods and the IMAX camera all the way to the top of that mount

a non-staged shot of a pilgrim praying to Allah

Shooting some footage on the roof of a hospital near the area

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a beautiful view of about 3 million pilgrims, praying to only one God, Allah, in the world’s largest religious gathering

EID  HOLIDAY- Wednesday 19th December 2007

We celebrated Eid today !! All of us we’re so excited and happy on that day, we felt like all our exhaustion was worn out ! we all ate with our hands, the traditional way :)

Read more on Eid Al-Adha here

JAMARAT: Thursday 20th December 2007

Stoning of the Devil or stoning of the jamarat is part of the annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage. Muslim pilgrims fling pebbles at three walls called jamarat in the city of Mina just east of Mecca. It is one of a series of ritual acts that must be performed in the Hajj.

Aside from the crowds and long walk to reach our destination, the shots we took were quite good, we didn’t come to any problems with the camera thank god now that the camera got fixed. But some stupid official came rushing up the stair, and barged shouting !! stop the cameras ! and that’s after we showed him the papers, and after he approved us to get up and shoot, but u know .. he changed his mind, check it out !

no comment :)

That stupid official nearly knocked the camera over while it’s rolling !! hamdella 3al 3agil

Reloading the film magazine, IMAX stock magazines run out really quickly

Shooting the Jamarat area

That’s me after the last shot, at laast !! its over now

EQUIPMENT WRAP AND CREW DINNER: Friday 21st December 2007

Now we’re back to Jeddah, we had to wrap up our cameras and equipments, and make sure everything is clean and in their proper boxes,

Clean, clean you 3rd camera assistant !

then later at night we had a group dinner with the whole crew, I think we all deserved it after our intense hard work during the last 2 weeks, really it was a moment not to be forgotten…

A group photo of our unit C, with the line producer forth from the right

Conclusion and and Trailer:

As I mentioned above, that’s only the first part of the filming, but the challenge of shooting on the Haj, is like attending the actual Haj – for whom that went before- but with the extra effort of carrying heavy boxes, tripods .. etc. So it was the most difficult part, not to mention the layers of bureaucracy that was needed to get through before the shooting began, that’s why the project started circa 2002-2003 but took time to get the approvals for the filming inside the Haram and especially besides the Ka’ba, which was the first time that ever happened in history.  I had a great experience being part of the crew, there were immense sharing going on between us, because there were people who knew about the Haj and some people knew things about filmmaking, we had top of the line technicans with us, people that did logistics and catering, but I think it was the combination of those things that made it all work, we all learnt from one another and from our mistakes, and filming during an uncontrolled environment only made the challenge even harder, making teamwork crucial.

After a few months another team was formed in Morocco to shoot the drama part of the movie, after that was over, the film got edited in Canada, and premiered for the first time to the public in Abu Dhabi on January 7th 2009.

Here check the trailer of the movie:

In my opinion, the filming by itself was a journey …

And now, le’s go see the movie ;)

18 Comments

    • Fawaz
    • Posted January 20, 2009 at 6:52 pm
    • Permalink

    wow very good reading! I enjoyed it :) I’ll make sure I don’t miss this movie..

  1. I’m interested in making a documentary movie!! i’ll check the video.

  2. Fantastic experience , i hope to see your work soon :)

  3. Thanks everyone for your comments :)

  4. Wow !!
    once in a life time experience
    Definitely gonna watch it !

    LoL 3la el jundee ..ga3id yl3ab jumbaz
    x)

  5. Very nice blog btw
    =)

    • Goshu
    • Posted January 23, 2009 at 1:52 am
    • Permalink

    Nice pictures. it seems like a really hard work. Would love to see this work.

    • Catism
    • Posted January 25, 2009 at 2:43 pm
    • Permalink

    Great job ma shaa Allaah.
    When is it going to be on theatres in Kuwait?

    Thanks

    • Catism
    • Posted January 25, 2009 at 2:45 pm
    • Permalink

    Another question, on what theatres? Scientific Centre?
    Please do keep us posted.

  6. Salam Alekoum Ahmad,

    Ma Shah Allah aleek! Alleh Ekleek!

    Salam,
    Moham Ali From Satellite TV Inc.

    • Mohammed Alrashidi
    • Posted April 13, 2009 at 12:08 am
    • Permalink

    Mashallah..

    Hope you had fun..!!

    Wallah ahmed this is a great experience for you..

    Started with “Be happy” and end inshallah to one of the greatest producers of all time..:)

    Good Luck..!

    • Yazan
    • Posted April 26, 2009 at 6:47 pm
    • Permalink

    WOW

    Wonderful work.

    Keep on the good work :)

    • Abdullah ALShatti
    • Posted October 30, 2009 at 2:36 pm
    • Permalink

    mashalla fekra mumtaza w ebda3 mu 6abe3y alla ywafge8 a7mad w enshala enshofek foog fooog foog

    • abdullah alliby
    • Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:31 am
    • Permalink

    ya3teek assaha ahmed
    can we have a talk about similar stuff plz
    i got something for u
    can i get ur email
    best of luck
    lookin forward to see it

    • abdullah alliby
    • Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:41 am
    • Permalink

    sorry to bother ahmed
    but i see the commentary for trailer is soooo poor

  7. Ahmad,
    This brought back so many memories of when I spent 2 summers working with my brother who builds movie sets and props for hollywood movies. He had 2 crews on movie locals and another crew on a television movie, so I spent time on all 3 projects. I really loved working with “artistic people”. They are so creative, spontaneous and FUN. Plus they love to party whenever they get the chance.
    I will have to seek out your film. When I watch the films I worked on, I spend more time pointing out things I helped build. See that wall, I painted that! Oh, those fields are not real, we planted …
    The unknown secrets of movie making. Continued success to you.

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  2. By IMAX: Journey to Mecca on 24 Mar 2009 at 9:35 pm

    [...] new Imax film called Journey to Mecca. I first heard about this movie from a blogger called Ahmad who posted about his experience on the movie set as a camera assist. Well the movie is done now and it looks interesting. Here is [...]

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